It’s common knowledge in this increasingly technological world that as we build more complex and interconnected systems, cyber and electronic threats continue to grow at an alarming rate. Threats range from credit card and banking security to warfare threats against the United States. Adding to the complexity is the fact that some threats are intentional, like hacking, or unintentional, resulting from an event like a natural disaster prompting a computer malfunction that takes down critical services.

That reality is prompting a need for greater education in the area of cybersecurity. To meet the growing demand to fight cybercrime, the U.S. Navy has established a program at The University of New Mexico to train ROTC cadets in cybersecurity.

“Engaging University of New Mexico ROTC Cadets in Cybersecurity Research” began Jan. 1. The program, part of the Office of Naval Research Navy ROTC Cybersecurity Training Program, will provide hands-on training to cadets as they earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering or computer science. The program is also open to cadets in the Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC at UNM.

The selected cohort of cadets will be performing paid undergraduate research in the laboratories of three School of Engineering faculty members: Fernando Moreu, who is the principal investigator on the project and an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering; Christopher Lamb, research assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Francesco Sorrentino, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“This project is a real multidisciplinary approach to cybersecurity,” Moreu said. “The three of us are looking at various projects that we plan to interrelate along the way while advancing areas that emphasize student learning, hands-on involvement, and undergraduate research. We hope to contribute and train our soldiers to become leaders in secure, reliable, safer cyber-physical systems, with an emphasis on outdoor systems, infrastructure, and power grids that need to be protected. We are thrilled to contribute with our research and education through service to our ROTC cadets.”

Moreu said the emphasis will be hands-on in sensors development and design of their protection to attacks and/or failure; programming, protecting, and cost-efficiently managing data, wireless sensors networks, and systems.

“We will work together combining the building of sensors with the understanding (and control) of chaos or attacks to critical infrastructure,” he said. “As multi-disciplinary researchers, this is a unique opportunity to work together and we are looking forward to star the various projects.”

In particular, the cadets will have the opportunity to learn in-depth about several critical areas as part of the project:

Unmanned Aerial Systems Equipped with Laser and Cameras for Dynamic Sensing. This will be led by Moreu and Sorrentino. This project will seek to develop a new framework that allows a pilot to direct a laser signal to a moving object to collect their dynamic responses and correct the drone movement using computer vision. This is needed to remotely detect vibrations in the field to quickly assess and understand if remote structures are vibrating or moving.

Augmented Reality for Real-Time Damage Assessment of Structures. Moreu will lead the unit, which will focus on developing a new framework that enables military members to quickly access and understand data form sensor networks using augmented reality (AR). AR is showing promise in increasing soldier awareness during combat, but there are currently security concerns about data communication, making it unsafe in some cases. This project will seek to quantify how AR formulates and transforms human decision-making in relation to structural safety, particularly increasing the understanding of changes in mechanical and structural properties in adverse conditions and how safe these communications can be maintained under various potential scenarios of attack.

Low-Cost Efficient Wireless Intelligent Sensors (LEWIS): Design, Fabrication, Testing, and Field Testing in Adverse Environments.Moreu will be leading this unit where cadets can take advantage of low-cost sensing technology to design a long-term monitoring system that can survive physical attacks and will be tested on the Sandia Peak Tramway.

Transient Analysis of Propagation of Cascading Failures in Power Grids. Sorrentino will lead this section, which will seek to characterize the transient dynamics of power grids by using a control theoretical approach, with the ultimate goal being to make power grids more reliable.

Protection of Critical Infrastructures Against Coordinated Attacks via Optimal Defense Strategies. This will be led by Sorrentino. The research will consider the coexistence of attack and defense strategies over a critical infrastructure in the context of a dynamic game and will analyze the relationship between optimal attacks and real-time responses to protect critical infrastructure.

Design of Secure Communication Protocols Based on Adaptive Synchronization of Chaotic Systems. This will be led by Sorrentino and will seek to devise and implement a strategy based on the concept of synchronization of chaos to sense and maintain connectivity in a network of coupled, multi-agent robotic systems, which can be used to replace human work.

Analysis of FPGA Systems in Instrumentation and Control. Lamb will lead this unit on software-defined radios, and how to defend against attacks using this technology against modern, web-enabled and RF-enabled devices. This project will seek to understand what is possible with these types of attacks and will develop specific attack scenarios and execute those scenarios and explore possible defenses. The project will describe a series of possible attack scenarios that could be used against the systems, then the group will compare and contrast the overall security of the hypothetical systems.

Cybersecurity and Software Defined Radio. Lamb will lead this unit on software-defined radios, which are vulnerable to cyberattacks. This type of attack is not well-understood, but has the potential to be powerful. This project will seek to understand what is possible with these types of attacks and will develop specific attack scenarios and execute those scenarios to attempt to develop defenses.

The project is funded through a Department of Defense grant of $250,000 through Dec. 31, 2020.